Lucia Caron, Jenny Gunkel, Mike Hanson, Nenita Rozzi, and Mike Russell
If you’ve been listening to the pundits and reading the headlines splashed across web and trade publications over the past five years, you could be forgiven for thinking that desktop support is dead or dying. Back in 2009, laptop shipments were growing by leaps and bounds, while desktop shipments had flattened, leading InfoWorld to wonder whether desktop PCs had a future at all. A year later, Google’s John Herlihy, then head of global advertising operations, predicted that by 2013 the desktop would be irrelevant, thrown over in favor of mobile devices and laptops. The rise of cloud computing renewed the debate, with analysts reporting that the cloud would wipe desktop support completely off the IT map.
The truth, as ever, is much more complicated. Changes in customer expectations have definitely had an impact on traditional desktop support, as have advances in technology. Virtual desktops and the cloud certainly seem like they should eliminate the need for desktop support analysts and technicians. But the debate over the future of desktop support has more to do with how the function is defined than the skills and abilities desktop support teams bring to IT and the business. It’s time to rebrand and redefine what desktop support really is!
Recently, the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board (DSAB) met to discuss how we might expand on last year’s white paper on the future of desktop support. That white paper examined the issue from a high level; this year, we want to drill down into the three main topics we covered—strategy, business knowledge, and technology—and provide more concrete guidance for desktop support staff and managers.
One challenge we face is that there’s substantial variation in what desktop support does depending on the type of business it supports, the size of the organization, and the overall scope of responsibility. Smaller teams tend to have broader scope, while larger teams typically have better tools at their disposal and can handle very large ticket volumes. The key is looking past these differences and finding the common denominators.
So, what is desktop support’s vision? After much discussion, here’s what the DSAB came up with:
We are passionate about delivering a positive customer experience by serving as a liaison between business and technology. We leverage our technical expertise to advocate for and provide solutions, adapting to new technology through continuous learning.
By this definition, desktop support is absolutely not dead! There are many skills and competencies that IT and the business can leverage—they just aren’t aware of them. As desktop support professionals, we need to market these skills, letting everyone know that the “desktop” in desktop support refers not to a physical device but to the place where work gets done. How the desktop is delivered to a screen is irrelevant to our ability to support technology in the pursuit of the business’s success.
Transferable Skills in Desktop Support
Let’s examine some ways that the skills gained from years of direct customer support might be leveraged in other areas. This list is by no means complete, and it’s sure to grow as we incorporate feedback from the community.
Problems can be classified into two different types: ill-defined and well-defined. Ill-defined problems do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solution. Well-defined problems have specific goals, defined solution paths, and clear, expected solutions. Problem solving is part of a larger process that encompasses problem determination, analysis, diagnosis, repair, and root cause analysis, and it often requires abstract, creative thinking.
Project managers are responsible for planning, executing, and closing projects. They are often client representatives and, as such, are tasked with determining the exact needs of the client, based on knowledge of the firm, and implementing solutions based on those needs. The project manager bridges the gap between the production team and client.
A problem is the unknown underlying cause of one or more incidents, and a known error is a problem that has been successfully diagnosed and for which either a workaround or a permanent resolution has been identified. Problem management aims to resolve the root causes of incidents so as to minimize the adverse impact of problems (incidents) on the business and prevent recurrence of incidents related to these problems. The problem management process is intended to reduce the number and severity of incidents and problems, in part by ensuring that problems are documented and made available to the service desk and desktop support. In the best case scenario, the service desk and desktop support can use this process to proactively identify and resolve problems before incidents occur.
Solutions experts possesses a deep knowledge of the products, services, or solutions they support. They understand the business’s and customer’s core concerns, and they know how to implement, troubleshoot, and manage the technology involved. Solutions experts are committed to staying up to date on training and education related to specific technologies, and they stay abreast of the latest developments in the products, services, or solutions in which they are experts.
Solutions experts provide a combined business- and systems-level approach to solving problems for the business and its customers. The solutions expert leverages several skills to provide specific results:
- A broad understanding of the operations and needs of the business, with more in-depth knowledge at the department/function level. This level of understanding allows the solutions expert to look beyond the immediate problem at hand and develop systematic solutions that address the needs of the customer. This may involve solving several problems with one solution.
- A broad understanding of the existing systems and technologies used to provide solutions for the customer, as well as knowing how to leverage those assets appropriately.
- Knowledge of tools and technologies not currently being used by the organization that may need to be acquired in order to provide a solution if the existing toolsets available are not adequate or appropriate.
The solutions expert may need to interact with problem solvers for technical expertise, systems architects for overall and future-state systems design, and upper management to acquire assets in order to design and develop the most effective solutions.
Business analysis involves research into the business’s needs and current state, resulting in solutions that address business problems. This process enables change, which might include process improvements or changes, system development, organizational changes, or strategic planning.
Business Relationship Manager
The business relationship manager is the liaison between the business and IT. This function doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of technical systems, but the BRM does need to be able to understand and translate the needs of the business units to the technical teams, and vice versa. This goes beyond merely relating the technical needs of the customer to IT. It can also involve coordinating technical system events with business customers, participating in project management, and advising IT of business events that could have technical or support impact. It’s not uncommon for people in this role to spend the majority of their time with the business customers instead of IT.
VIP/emergency support is a core competency of desktop support technicians, who are often the most well equipped to provide quick, focused troubleshooting. Having a broad technical knowledge of the environment and experience with a wide range of issues in the field, they’re able to quickly identify possible root causes of issues and determine the next course of action. These support situations require exceptional customer service skills, as technicians may be dealing with high-level management or situations that have a potentially high impact on business productivity.
Similar to VIP/emergency support, desktop support technicians are a logical choice for the walk-up support environment. Their experience, technical skills, and communication skills enable them to provide accurate assessments on turnaround time in these situations, ensuring a confident and reliable experience with IT support overall.
Productivity Application Support
Because of their up-close-and-personal interaction with the business/operational environment, desktop support technicians have a base knowledge and understanding of user requirements and their applications. Whether these applications are shrink-wrapped software, like Microsoft Office, or proprietary business applications, experienced technicians can help users define performance issues within application tasks.
Rebranding Desktop Support
These skills probably won’t come as a surprise to most desktop support professionals. The challenge to the community is, how do we rebrand ourselves and market these skills?
As an industry, we need to actively broaden our scope. If you or your team attend meetings where opportunities to leverage these skills arise, do you speak up? Many of the new technologies that impact support are being introduced by teams that have traditionally been behind the scenes and have never had to provide direct customer support. Look for opportunities to leverage these core competencies to expand your scope of support.
It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum. If there’s a support gap that could take advantage of legacy skills and we don’t speak up, someone else will fill that gap. If we never speak up, then eventually our desktop support teams will be diminished or die out altogether. Encourage your team to be advocates for desktop support and for themselves.
The primary mission of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board is to provide advice and guidance for the creation of industry standards, best practices, research, and professional development. The twenty-five board members represent organizations from a range of industries, and regardless of how large their organizations are or which support model they employ, each member provides critical insight into the trends and needs of the desktop support community.